Criticisms Wednesday trailed a proposal by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, for the National Assembly to extend the tenure of the president and governors by two years to forestall possible crisis that may mar the 2015 elections.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) described Ekweremadu’s suggestion as another third term agenda of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Other stakeholders, including senators, Lagos lawyers, Mr. Fred Agbaje and Mr. Festus Keyamo as well as Dr. Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, former Special Adviser to former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, expressed reservations about the proposal that may allow President Goodluck Jonathan and other governors who are currently spending their first term in office to stay beyond the four-year limit tenure prescribed for them, which will end in 2015.
Justifying the need for the National Assembly to consider a review of Sections 136 and 180 of the 1999 Constitution that stipulated a four-year tenure for the president and governors, Ekweremadu had argued that the proposal to give them two extra years was aimed at dousing the political tension being generated by the jockeying for the 2015 general election.
However, the APC kicked against the bid as its interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed told THISDAY in a telephone interview that the plan was another third term agenda of the ruling party.
According to him, the deputy Senate president is flying a kite and Nigerians must not accept it.
He said: “It is like the third term agenda of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. When we told Nigerians that he (Jonathan) is not serious about the proposed national dialogue, the people called us all sorts of names, but it is now clearer that the president does not want an election and there must be an election.”
A senator who pleaded for anonymity queried the propriety of Ekweremadu’s suggestion, wondering why he should be talking of tenure elongation now after the Constitution Drafting Committee of the National Assembly, which the deputy senate president chaired, had concluded its assignment and the issue was rejected by majority of Nigerians.
“I know what I would have told him but the man is my friend. I don’t know where he derives the power to do so, but because he is my friend, let me spare him,” he said.
However, Senator Ahmed Lawan (Yobe North) said Ekweremadu was being speculative as the issue was not on the card for the National Assembly.
He said: “As long as the issue of elongation of the tenure of president and governors is not before the Senate now, any comment Ekweremadu made would only be speculative. What is important and crucial is only what Nigerians want.
“Politics cannot be devoid of rancour. If we extend the tenure of the president and governors just to avoid rancour now and we want to conduct another election, are we going to extend their tenure again to avoid rancour?”
He explained that instead of trying to avoid rancour in the polity, politicians should be encouraged to imbibe “the culture of give–and-take, the culture of accepting other people’s views and the culture of compromise.”
Agbaje, reacting to the suggestion, said the issue of tenure elongation was beyond the National Assembly.
He wondered why politicians would want to change their contract with the electorate who voted the president and governors in on the basis that they would spend four years in office.
“I do seriously sympathise with the Senate having regard to the do-or-die attitude of our political office holders and the need to allow them implement their policy plans that may not be accommodated within their four years; but that is not to say that the electorate with whom sovereignty lies can be short changed.
“If the electorate elected some people for four years, that is a political contractual agreement. Can you, before the political contractual agreement ends, change the political goal post? The answer is no!
“You must go back to the electorate to get your mandate. As I said, sovereignty is with the people.
“That type of constitutionally questionable extension is an attempt to short-change Nigerians. It should be thrown back to Nigerians whether they would accept it or not. It is beyond the legislative mandate of the National Assembly,” he said .
On his part, Keyamo said no matter the merit of Ekweremadu’s argument for a tenure extension for the president and governors, the proposal would only be considered good if the current political office holders would not be beneficiaries.
“My position is that I have always supported a single tenure of six years so long as the president and the current governors do not benefit from it. Let them leave immediately and let the new president and governors enjoy it,” he added.
Adinoyi-Ojo wondered why politicians would like to turn political expediency to a way of life, adding that tenure extension is unknown to the constitution
He said: “The Nigerian constitution provides for tenure of four years for the executive and the legislature. And for the executive, that four-year tenure is only renewable for another four years. That is what the constitution says. As long as that constitution remains in operation, there can’t be an extension. Extension is unknown to the constitution. Let us do what is right. Let us not do what is convenient. We should not raise expediency to a way of life.”
A member of civil society group, Mr. Don Ubani, gave a qualified support to the proposal.
According to him, the move to extend the tenure of both the president and the governors would be a good one if it will address many foundational problems currently plaguing the country’s existence as an entity.
“The Nigerian state has had fundamental problems, one being the forcible amalgamation by the British colonialists of the Northern and Southern protectorates that created the Nigerian state in such a way that favours the North and disadvantaged the South. The British made sure the South was perpetually disadvantaged through the instrument of population and the military.
“By next year, Nigeria will be 100 years and there is no better time to address these problems than now,” Ubani said.